Liverpool played out a 1-1 draw against Manchester United last night, in what was a massive battle with plenty at stake.
The Reds came into the Premier League tie eight points off league leaders Chelsea and sitting in fourth after rivals Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Chelsea themselves managed wins in the previous day.
A cagey start to the match at Old Trafford was followed by a 27th minute breakthrough for the visitors, as James Milner converted from the spot after a handball offence by Paul Pogba.
With United playing to narrow the gap between them and the top-four, Jose Mourinho’s men were eager to bounce back immediately, though, they would experience plenty of frustration in their attempts as Liverpool held firm against their every push.
However, the Red Devils’ patience and persistence would eventually pay off, as striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic equalised late on with a header.
In the end, it would seem as though Liverpool would be the happier of the two sides with a point going either way, and their rivals failing to close in on the top-four but given the amount of dominance the away side imposed on the match, they would be forgiven for feeling they’d deserved all three.
That said, here are five things we learned from the grudge match at Old Trafford.
Klopp gets revenge in tactical role-reversal
The last time these two sides met, in October, there was a clear contrast in style and intention. Liverpool were in pulsating form, not only winning games but blowing side after side away with their fast-paced and fluid attacking football, therefore making Mourinho’s primary objective to keep the Reds quiet. In a classic Mourinho-type ultra-defensive move, the Man United boss succeeded, with the game ending goalless.
This time, however, there was a clear tactical role reversal.
United’s recent run of form easily told many observers what their intentions would be in this match – to not only win but to do it in style – and the onus was on Jurgen Klopp to find a way to stop them. For at least 83 minutes, he did.
It’s not something that is commonly associated with Liverpool but the Reds put in an acceptable, if not excellent, defensive display, constantly denying Man United’s stars the influence they would usually have on games such as these.
The most impressive evidence of this is found in the fact that United’s midfield presence was, to be quite honest, suffocated, as money-man Pogba again couldn’t live up to his price-tag, Ander Herrera put in another defensive display quite undermining of his attacking talents and Michael Carrick (a key player for many a Red Devils’ fan) was substituted at half-time.
Limiting that midfield influence ultimately blocked the path forward and must be marked down as a key success in ensuring the avoidance of defeat for the Reds in this game.
Alexander-Arnold keeps a cool head
In a game of such massive importance, both in league and pride contexts, playing a youth can most likely be viewed as “throwing him in the deep end”, at times a quite risky action.
But Liverpool manager Klopp took that risk with Trent Alexander-Arnold on this occasion and the German was rewarded with a cool head at right-back.
The 1818-year-oldade his first ever Premier League start, deputising for the injured Nathaniel Clyne. In truth, it wasn’t an outstanding performance by the youngster. There were a number of moments in which he seemed to struggle with the pace and trickery of Anthony Martial but throughout the entire game he was a calm presence at the back.
Perhaps his most impressive contribution? The fact that he did what he was called up to do. There weren’t any buccaneering runs down the right flank, no fancy crosses nor was there any unnecessary hanging onto the ball for long periods. The young man simply did his job: distribute the ball when he had it, retrieve it when his team doesn’t.
All things considered, this may have only been his first experience of such a big game in Liverpool colours but it certainly won’t be his last.
Milner remains Mr.Reliable from the spot
When James Milner excellently put away the game’s opening goal from the penalty spot, Liverpool’s social media team reported the news with two photos captioned, “If there’s a man who’s going to stay cool from the spot in a situation like that, it’s James Milner.”
No one could’ve summed it up any better. As well as finding his feet in a new left-back role, Milner has comfortably established himself as the Merseyside club’s distinguished penalty-taker.
The Englishman’s effort was his sixth from the spot this season and given that a number of those penalties have come in very vital periods and situations – for instance, Swansea City 1-1 Liverpool – he deserves plenty of credit for his consistent reliability from a position where many have faltered.
Coutinho’s impact is evident
He may have only recently returned to full training, following a long-term lay-off, but Philippe Coutinho has wasted no time in making his presence (which was much missed) felt again.
The Brazilian made a first appearance since November last Wednesday against Southampton in the League Cup and due to Liverpool’s medical team not deeming him fit enough to play for 90 minutes at Old Trafford, he had to settle for another start from the bench.
However, on this occasion, much like on the former, the midfielder’s arrival seemed to lift his teammates massively. Up until the hour-mark, Liverpool’s attacking play had seriously lacked fluency in movement and a touch of creativity on the ball. When Coutinho came on, he brought with him those qualities and could’ve immediately earned an assist had fellow Brazilian Roberto Firmino – who also looked happy to reunite with his mate – converted the playmaker’s smart reverse pass in the Man United box.
The Anfield faithful are, without doubt, already looking forward to seeing their little magician regain full fitness, giving him ample time to make the desired impact but that even a limited amount of time in an important match is enough for him to produce something rings volumes of his quality and significance to Klopp’s side.
Reds’ big-game mentality crucial for upcoming tests
One of Liverpool’s most impressive facts from this season, thus far, is that the Reds haven’t lost a single game of theirs against every side in the Premier League’s top six.
That fact confirms their big-game mentality, one that is largely inspired by Klopp himself and the Merseysiders are set to enter a period in the league which will require of them more of the Goliath within their David.
Up next on their fixture list is a home tie against Swansea City. Given how congested the top-half of the log is, that is already an important fixture but have a look at Liverpool’s next three home games after that one. The Reds face three of the current top-six in Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal.
These are all games that, if positive results are collected from them, could keep Klopp’s men still deeply involved in the title race and on course to achieve this season’s primary objective: a top-four finish.
Winning them, is of course, easier said than done but Liverpool have shown enough in games of this calibre this season, including the two against Man United, to gather belief and encouragement around Anfield that these big games are winnable, if not losable.
Therefore the 2016/17 season could yet be special for Klopp’s Reds.